- For college football fans, these guys are far from sleepers, but the NFL is about to find out what we already know.
If it feels like Kyler Murray has dominated the NFL draft discussion this year, that’s because he has. On Thursday night, we’ll finally find out what Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals will do with the No. 1 pick (and last year’s first-round pick Josh Rosen), and the rest of the 2019 draft will unfold from there.
Beyond Murray, there are other QB prospects there for the taking—Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Missouri’s Drew Lock, and Duke’s Daniel Jones—as well as a loaded defensive line class and some physical freaks who make for enticing offensive weapons, all of which have captured the imagination of NFL fans and analysts alike. But with evaluators’ emphasis on tools and potential over college production in their search for franchise players, there are plenty of non-QB, non-first-round prospects that the average dedicated college football fan would think the NFL is overlooking. That’s where the We-Told-You-So Team comes in.
Tyler Lockett broke all kinds of records at Kansas State but largely flew under the radar heading into the 2015 draft, where he was grabbed by the Seahawks in the third round and quickly put in a position to thrive as a pro. Texas defensive tackle Poona Ford went undrafted last year, in large part because he’s 5'11", and signed as a free agent with the Seahawks, only to post 21 tackles as a rookie and establish himself as the disruptive force on the inside Longhorns fans knew so well. Last year’s list also made note of former Auburn star running back Kerryon Johnson, whom the Lions traded up to snag in the second round. He missed the final six games of his rookie year with an injury but finished tied for second in the NFL in yards per carry (5.4).
With the caveat that there are no guarantees during draft season, we’re highlighting 10 players who may not have jumped off the board to NFL brass but will be productive for whichever organization takes a chance on them if their college careers are any indication.
Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic
He might not be the biggest (5'7", 203 pounds) or the fastest running back in this draft, but “Motor” Singletary is super shifty, elusive and patient. He excels at breaking tackles, making defenders miss in space, catching the ball out of the backfield and finding the end zone. Singletary rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons in Boca Raton and racked up 54 rushing touchdowns (including a nation-leading 32 as a sophomore) over his final two years playing for Lane Kiffin.
NFL teams have learned to wait a bit to draft running backs who fall outside of the elite tier, so Singletary will go on Day 2 or 3. His small stature won’t help his cause, but he’s a workhorse with great vision who will be an excellent pickup.
Karan Higdon, RB, Michigan
Higdon was one of the most powerful and consistent running backs last fall, rushing for 1,178 yards and 10 touchdowns. There’s some hesitation about his size at 5'9", 206 pounds and he may not be an every-down back in the NFL. But he’s explosive enough and has good enough vision to alleviate those concerns.
Hunter Renfrow, WR, Clemson
For those who are still (somehow?) unfamiliar, Renfrow was a hero at Clemson, going from walk-on to the cover of Sports Illustrated on the strength of his knack for big plays in big moments. Renfrow caught 186 passes for 2,133 yards with 15 touchdowns in his five-year college career that felt like a 10-year college career, but in seven College Football Playoff games, he recorded 37 catches and four touchdowns, which is a big part of why he leaves Clemson as a two-time national champion.
The knock on him, of course, is his size. At 5'10" and 184 pounds, there are bigger, stronger and faster receivers in the draft, but maybe none more dependable.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford
He’s ticketed for the second or third day, but Arcega-Whiteside could end up as the best receiver in this class. The 6'2", 225-pounder has a dangerous combination of size, strength and speed that makes him lethal on jump balls and a valuable blocker. Over the past two seasons, he was the Cardinal’s most productive receiver, hauling in 111 catches for 1,840 yards with 23 touchdowns.
Andy Isabella, WR, UMass
As a senior, Isabella led the FBS in receiving yards (1,698) and receiving yards per game (141.6). He had a career day against an SEC defense last November, when he snagged 15 catches for 219 yards and two touchdowns as the Minutemen’s only reliable source of offense in a 66–27 loss to Georgia. Isabella ran a 4.31 40 at the combine, and despite his 5'9", 188-pound frame, he has proven he can separate from his man and fend off physical cornerbacks.
Antoine Wesley, WR, Texas Tech
Only a few months after undergoing hip surgery, Wesley led the Red Raiders with 88 receptions for 1,410 yards (16.0 per catch) and nine touchdowns. The 6'4" wideout made a lot of big plays for Kliff Kingsbury’s third-ranked passing offense last year, with his best game an eye-popping 13-catch, 261-yard, three-touchdown effort in a 63–49 win over Houston.
Wesley is projected as a third- or fourth-rounder—he didn’t have the best numbers at Texas Tech’s pro day, and he only had one wildly productive season in Lubbock, spending his first two years on campus lost in the Red Raiders’ crowd of receivers. But Wesley does have the ideal size, separation speed and awareness to make an NFL team happy.
Ben Burr-Kirven, LB, Washington
He’s not a physical freak, but there’s a reason why Burr-Kirven led the nation in tackles and was the Pac-12’s defensive player of the year. Not having the ideal kind of size or speed never prevented him from swarming the football or having the right instincts or making a play.
Last season, he was the heartbeat of the defense that led Washington to a conference championship and a Rose Bowl berth while racking up 176 tackles (94 solo), 5.5 for loss, two sacks, two interceptions, six pass breakups, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
Chase Winovich, DE, Michigan
Winovich won’t go as early as Big Ten rival Nick Bosa or teammate Rashan Gary, but he’s a relentless edge rusher who was Michigan’s heart and soul last season. What he lacks in size, he makes up in every other way. Winovich is tough, bold, outspoken, passionate and has always held those qualities. The 6'3", 256-pounder was productive in Don Brown’s defense and ranked top-five nationally in quarterback pressures (109) and run stops (69) over the past two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus.
He also went on a date with Madonna’s daughter, struck up a friendship with Connor McGregor, and promoted Michigan’s famous ‘Revenge Tour’ that carried the Wolverines to a New Year’s Six bowl.
Hamp Cheevers, CB, Boston College
Cheevers not only has the best name on this list, he’s also the reigning FBS interceptions leader. He tied Syracuse’s Andre Cisco with seven last fall and allowed a 45.9% catch rate, per Pro Football Focus. He was a solid cover corner at Boston College, and he has the demeanor to overcome his size after he measured 5'9" and 169 pounds at the combine.
Jaquan Johnson, S, Miami
Johnson, who led Miami last season with 92 tackles, has a knack for big plays and always ends up around the football, which made him a frequent recipient of the Hurricanes’ Turnover Chain. The leader of the Hurricanes’ defense, Johnson plays faster than his 4.69 40-yard dash time would indicate.